Category Archives: Planning

September activities

1. Pursuing with static vigour the idea of Autumn – that is to say, ideas collected from other countries (North America, mainly). Leaves red and orange. Mist. A little bird skeleton with the wings still on. Mushrooms and toadstools. Camp fires. Slugs and black beetles under stones coming out when the rain does. My tweets accrue on the subject, while I stay indoors looking at a milk sky, trying to:


2. Write essays for the Necessary Fiction residency. Write a recap for The Female Gaze. I need to start, I stare at the blinking cursor, my head in the mountains, my hands rustling leaves. I link too much, I stand signing. I am a sign of myself.


3. Awaiting. Waiting. Which has more verve, more glamour? To await something. Waiting on something. Waiting for. This is the linguistic exploration of someone at a bus stop, looking both ways and there is nothing and the phone battery is dead and you forgot your book. No cars. A deer up ahead, ghostly on splayed foot. My white deer, I think of you. It disappears around behind the corner shop and the recycling bins.


4. All the waiting leads to omens. To rituals – checking things, expecting things. Imagined deer. But a magpie did land on my window sill however many days ago. I couldn’t see it, but knew from the rattle. When I got up to look I only caught sight on the wings, the gloss – and it landed in a rowan tree, and there is no meaning in this, of course not.


5. No writing. Writing fiction will be October. I want cold breath and a clear head for that time.

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Filed under Planning, The Now

Writing is Waiting

I’ve been working on my first review for PANK and finding it unusually stressful. I just really want it to be good enough, but the language of critique is hard for me. Always I cannot see with a clinical eye, but have to touch everything instead, working out the shapes and textures. Right now, I’m waiting for D to have time to proofread what I’ve done so far, to point out any weaknesses or confusion so that I can smooth them away. Added to this, I’m also waiting for the weekend, when D will be able to sit down and read the manuscript of the current with me, to play spot-the-no. No, this doesn’t make sense, no, this is not clear enough, no, this does not sing.

That means, for now, I have set the manuscript aside, cannot fiddle with it even a bit. I have nothing for my hands to do: I keep hearing dud notes through the wall, and it irks. But a bit of distance is necessary. Writing is waiting, not just typing. Not even thinking – sometimes the silence is needed, to let the subconscious seethe and click, like a nest of something, a swarm of something, knitting away in the dark.

I have, after much of humming and hawing, finally decided that the title is not what I want for it, that it should be Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts, so that’s what it shall be from now on. The last words found written on a piece of paper, inside a wallet, on the body of Stephen Foster, writer of ‘Oh! Susanna’,  ‘Beautiful Dreamer’. It carries more within it than a generational descriptor. It hints, it hums sweetly, but not too sweetly.

Anyway, to keep my mind from rattling too much, I’m posting these pictures of Spring. Soothing, and only pleasant, of the blossoms on the ornamental cherries which seem to be everywhere in this city. You turn a corner and there they are, heavy with puffs of white or pink. These were taken behind the National Museum, beside the Potterrow Port:


Filed under 2012, art, consolations of writing, Edinburgh, Planning, The Now

Storyboarding, Storymaking

D and I are whisking off today on the trains bound North for Oban, the gateway to the isles (though we aren’t sure what our plans are on that point).  Not a literary journey, but likely a very picturesque one.  As you can guess, I will probably have plenty of photographs to share. I hope I don’t overdo the images to the detriment of words, and that soon I will have a lengthy, word-rich post for you to sink your teeth into. You might also ask, what happened to Endless Reads 2012? Tobias Smollett happened to it. Smollett and all his Georgian puffery and personal wretchedness…I hope four-odd hours confined to a carriage will help me toil through more pages than I have managed so far. He’s going to be one of the two-weekers. Not giving up yet!


More fun so far has been starting a second illustration class at the Edinburgh College of Art.  This time, we have to design one lengthy project, alongside general practice and keeping an observational sketchbook.


Tonight, we were set the task of producing a mock-up of our project ideas.  I decided to do a series of illustrations showing Aida’s long bus journey from New York City to New Mexico. It would be a blurring of reality and the work-in-progress, of the real journey D and I took and the rough outline I’ve made in the draft of The Millennial. Non-fiction visual narrative, I suppose? I said I would put them together in a little booklet, perhaps. After class, one of the other students came up to me with a suggestion that I add diary entries for each panel, to give a feeling of intimacy. I’m havering on this idea, though I was so grateful to have kind feedback. I like the idea of having it a silent sequence,  removed from the burden of text (I know I’ve been writing too much when I say that, and welcome Oban as a wee break from type-type-type).


Here are the rough (oh so rough) drawings I made, plus a little extra one just for fun. There will be more scenes in the final project, I think. More drama, as there was on the actual journey.

Diary of a houseplant. The real-life one didn't take to being sketched, and has turned very peely-wally in the few hours since.


Filed under 2012, Endless Reads 2012, Illustration, New Mexico, New York, Planning, reading, The Millenial, The Now

The Model World

Boats, opposite Oslo harbour

Figurines, Central Park

A teeny canal in model Amsterdam

View from the hills in Catalonia

Wee Scottish parliament, Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags

I have been seeing the world in miniature, playing around with a new online tool to make everything macro and real seem micro and constructed by giant hands. I know this trick has been round for a while now, and was quite faddish a few years back – but I thought the technique behind it must be quite complex. It turns out that someone has built the software so that it’s just a matter of sliding a preset bar up and down the picture to determine the point of focus, and with a bit of work, I should improve quite quickly.


Anyway, I love the effect – the buildings and hills like a setting for a model railway, the strange fragility granted the human figures and the trees. It is like the creation of a short story – or flash fiction – out of the broader, coarser materials of life, a distilling of the elements. I think I miss writing shorter pieces, though I really hadn’t written many. I prefer the flash fiction or the prose (or otherwise) poem.


When the draft of the novel is finished, I can bring out the finer tools, the magnifying glass. The flashes will have to come later, when the bigger spread is at last done with: a vision of a chapbook I can balance on one finger, with a cover of tiny mountains and at their base, a city of tiny houses where the crumbs of narrative will live.


Filed under consolations of writing, Edinburgh, New York, Planning, The Now

Record of the Light

Dappled light, on a hill in Edinburgh

flowers beside the Museum of Childhood, London

Long grass and thistles, summit of an Edinburgh hill

Paris, from the Eiffel Tower

From the hill again: a housing estate, Edinburgh

Thoughts of Summer today, a drench of strong light, and everything growing – though that photo of flowers from London was taken when I went down there at the beginning of this month. Paris – that was taken on a trip for my birthday, in June of 2007. The smaller photographs are ones I brought back from my parent’s house yesterday. I took them on a Polaroid camera when I was about fifteen or sixteen – so perhaps 1998 or so. It must have been summer, because I remember  warmth enough to stay lying in that long grass under a blue sky. Down in the housing estate, in the last picture, is where my family still live.

Today is another day of waiting and doing, bustle and nipping cold.

But I know if I’m lucky there will be further moments like those in these photographs some time this year.


Filed under 2012, Planning, Scotland, The Now

Vignettes and some Kilea news

My friend C's front door has a holy peacock on it

My mind is a little jostled today, along with my body, so please excuse the slight disorder here. I made it back to the city of smoking chimneys at one thirty last night, after a long but blessedly uneventful bus journey – but most importantly, after a successful trip to London.

Shoreditch, towards the Gherkin building

The visit was not at all about sightseeing, and most of the time was spent nattering, dining, browsing and film watching with friends.  I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures around the East End, in Bow, where C lives, and trendy Shoreditch (I love calling it this, and wish they could rename it on the signs) where I met my friend G on Kingsland Road and where there is a Vietnamese restaurant for everyone.

An old industrial building in Shoreditch

On the side of a former Tea warehouse, there are lots of rather forceful missives

“War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, Time for Tea”  – I’m not sure Orwell would approve of this hijacking.

A gritty looking street - called Cotton's Gardens.

In contrast, C's windowsill in Bow, like Shoreditch, also in East London

I am happy to report that the meeting with my agent went well, aside from delays in her flight. I sat waiting for her in a pleasant cafe, drinking tea and reading of the exploits of Isabella Bird in the Rocky Mountains. All snow, wild beasts, ‘ghastly vistas’ and handsome ruffians with ‘neglected tawny curls’ – the wrought Victorianness of things keeping me well occupied.

The news on Kilea is that the wait will continue: word has not been received from all the editors the manuscript has been sent to – this apparently is not uncommon, and so is not something to fret about. The agent will be sending them a nudge to let them know I have won the Unbound Press Best Novel Prize, which will hopefully sharpen their pencils a little. It may be months until I hear more concrete news from these parties, and until then I can’t share the other good piece of news I had on the novel (I don’t want to speak out of turn and hex my chances).

There are a few things I can be doing – writing this blog for example, and continuing to reach out to fellow writers and readers.I’ve started a twitter account, as you can see down to the right under the bird noises (@HelenMcClory): I’d love suggestions of people to follow as well as anyone who’d like to follow me. Mine will probably feature a fair amount of ephemera alongside articles of interest. I’m still chary of the brevity of tweets, but hopefully there will be ways to connect to others, and that poignancy and poetry are there to be found.


Filed under consolations of writing, Planning, The Now


Books in golden light, unread

1. It’s Hogmanay at last and time for many traditional things – fireballs, fireworks, Auld Lang Syne, First Footing tall dark men (never blonde men, who may be Vikings coming to ruin the party), Black bun and Whisky. If you are not Scottish, you may be a little confused, but Wiki will come to your aid in that link. Here in Edinburgh, we have the fireworks all around the castle, and the sound can be heard from one end of the city to the other.


2. It’s also the time of list making, looking forward with one eye and back with the other, and trying to mesh them into a perfect unity using paper and the tip of a pen, or a screen and the tips of your fingers.


3. I have come to realise that I’m not terribly proficient at lists. I like the idea of them, the cleanliness and order, but in practice, my mind just doesn’t enjoy working from point to point, outlying intentions so they can be carefully picked out later and put into effect.


4. Things inevitably get forgotten.


5. Or the lists themselves seem lopsided, and when I go back to make them shorter and clearer I don’t really know what to do. Shopping lists are the exception, but it’s hard to motivate yourself with a shopping list. Perhaps it’s also that I am not wedded to the idea of units of progression through life? Memory intruding and mucking things up, and the tangling of tangential threads, and periods of intense work, and periods of distraction.


6. The language of lists is too simple, but conversely, too precise.  Or perhaps I need to start writing and reading more poetry, which can be a clever form of list.


7.  Despite this, I do have my list, all book related. The picture at the top was taken a few days ago. I am struggling not to try and break open the new year early and open one. In fact, I think I will try to do that at the stroke of midnight, in between toasts and hugs and singing. I have a mild superstition that what you are doing at midnight on the 1st day will somewhat dictate the flavour of the rest of the year. So in 2010, it was a challenge of a year, because I was out in the cold to watch the show in Princes St Gardens, put out by the lack of tread on my boots, and nervous about slipping over on the frosted hill I was standing on. 2011 saw D and I quietly watching the fireworks over the East River in New York City from the roof of our apartment building in Queens – a sense of awe, and careful footing over the tar above our neighbours houses, so they wouldn’t be too disturbed by our movements, and happiness – and so it turned out to be, perhaps -


8. As it’s all in the interpretation, of course.


9.What ever 2012 brings to you, I hope the balance falls in the favour of goodness, whether orderly or mildly chaotic.  And so I wish you all a Happy Hogmanay in what ever way it is your custom to celebrate.


Filed under consolations of reading, Edinburgh, Planning, The Now

Back to the Village

Christmas is over, Boxing Day is done, and the flat is still strewn with tinsel, many surfaces padded with cards, and the fridge full of rich left-overs to be munched when appetite returns.

So, time to resume where I left off, in the beautiful St Mawes.

Looking out over the rooftops, towards the inlet

It is really such a lovely place, cluttered up streets tucking in on themselves, tiny houses tressed in ivy and climbing plants, and those subtropical species that seem to endure quite well on the mild westerly coast of the UK.

A pink cottage with palm trees leaning in close

A thatched house on the road up to the castle

Ye Olde Petrol Pumps

It has been so well preserved I think because of its location, at the tip end of the Roseland peninsula. Hard to get to by car, along those single-track roads (hairpin bends, obscured further by high hedgerows), the quickest way to get there is by special chain-boat ferry.

The Ferry, decked out for Christmas (I love the little man watching over the cars)

The ferry leaves from a small hamlet with the docking point, that wonderfully appears on the map under the name of King Harry Ferry. As you can see, it’s more of a flat platform, and is ported across the river Fal by the use of chains, rather than an engine on the boat itself.

Despite the small difficulties of getting there, the village (or perhaps it is a town) doesn’t feel isolated or in any way dead, even in the depths of winter.

All the cottages have names, some descriptive of those who used to live there, others a bit fanciful (like 'Pirate cottage') and then there was this one

This cottage has a pretty sensible name, considering its location..

...quite close to this, the Holy Well of St Mawes (dating from around the 6th Century, and sadly locked behind this tiny door)

I really wanted to open the door and peer down into the well underneath. A grotto of ferns around a dark, stone pool – or perhaps less impressive, and better imagined than seen.

With all these sights to fire the mind, I plan to start back later today on the draft of The Millennial, hoping to bring something of the spark of the place into Aida’s memories, to wind the ivy and the smell of salt air around her (inland, American) loneliness.


Filed under Planning, The Millenial, The Now

Seaward, the high cliffs and the low coves

a field near Falmouth

Today was all about seeking out a good setting for the Heligan-esq home of Aida Helyer (Hellyer with the extra L derived from the Cornish language for either a slater, as in one who puts slates on a roof, or a hunter). I think I may have found it. But! I have to return tomorrow for better pictures to post, since we flew through the village.

I am tired, windburnt, tucked in at a convenient travelodge in St Austell – but most of all glad of another productive day, having determined that the battered Atlantic coast around Land’s End is not exactly the right place for Aida. She has more in kind with the more sheltered, greener, channel-facing coast, the rural villages and estates around the creek-cut peninsulas around Falmouth to St Austell.

Here are some of the inspiring sights of that sort of area that kept us going throughout a long day (yesterday and today) in the saddle.

Surfers staring out at the waves, Porthluney bay

Down in Porthcurnoe Village...

...and high above (the mysterious couple of the first picture would be looking out over the harbour, with that gorgeous beach - actually one of two - to their left)

The tidal island of St Michaels Mount, near Penzance, enjoying some luxury lighting effects

Some views swept all stresses away by their beauty, while others, hidden in the nooks and coves, were little joys in their own way.

The Lamorna Wink pub, in Lamorna.

That’s a picture of a Cornish fisherman, not a pirate – although it can be hard to tell the difference as the stereotypical accent is more or less the same.

Mousehole, pronounced 'Mowzel'. Other Cornish name highlights included Bugle, Goonhilly, Grampound, Probus, and Paul (a village)

The Merry Maidens, near Land's End.

Throughout Cornwall, there are ancient Celtic Crosses (Cornwall being a part of the Celtic nations which includes Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany and sometimes Galicia and Asturias in Northern Spain) positioned along the ancient roads. Here was something a little more unusual – a full, Neolithic standing stone circle.

Handily, a local, possessing local insights, was out walking his slightly angry dog. He told me of the legend behind the name, that a group of women caught dancing and making merry on the Sabbath were turned to stone as punishment. Further along, two 10 feet high stones are called the Pipers – similarly afflicted because of their lack of respect of the day of rest. There was also a barrow, a burial mound covered in stones, right by the side of the road, though we couldn’t stop as the point at which we were at was on one of the (unfortunately common) single-track roads with hedgerows on either side, and blind turns not too far off.  I will have to try to get a picture of one of the crosses too, all lichened and worn from age, though only if we can find a place where neither the car nor ourselves are in any danger.

St Mawes Castle, guarding the setting of the sun over the sea

And this last picture was taken above the village of St Mawes, the village I hope to place Aida, more or less.  A taster, hopefully, of what tomorrow’s catch will be.


Filed under Planning, The Millenial, The Now


…I work at pushing The Millennial on, like trying to roll a giant ball I made myself of clagged sand and water, or wet clay, that keeps cracking and threatening to split against the tiniest rootknot on the ground.

Other hazards may make themselves known

In an effort to mark some progress, I’m posting an extract of the current opening, placed here as a time capsule for future-me.:

They were familiar with one another, old friends. She, in a broad hat, one of those dresses only worn by those absolutely comfortable with their physical selves (a man’s rust-tinted belt, double-knotted, low on her hips, visible tailing from under the table), touching him. Lightly, lightest – while he moved the cup smoothly to his mouth and drank and licked chocolate powder and foam from the corner of his lip with instant discretion. Grey suit. Hair at his temples brushed back. And weren’t they now laughing, of course. Old joke; she’d said about his rescue dog, ribs, kick-haunted eyes, and now plump and a darling, but – a subtext. She’d come over later to pet its gleaming greyhound fur. Her nails were not bitten, nor had ever touched land dirt, bin bag, or greasy railing. He leaning back, broad, bold, saying about that trip they’d taken together. Or would take? Sketch book, liquid hatchets from Aida’s pen. The man coughed – Aida glancing away, slipping the book out of sight – but he hadn’t noticed. Aida at the counter by herself, had felt slight, ordering her chai, and picking at the air-holes on the lid. Then walking, alone, out of the café, a blur crossing the intersection, hopelessly in love again with the way others could manage to live.


Filed under consolations of writing, New Mexico, Planning, snippet, The Millenial, The Now, Theory